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Cycling with AF

My name is Michael Ellis and I’d just like to share with you how, in the spring of 2013, my entire life changed direction. I had an itchy rash on my face for two weeks before finally succumbing to peer pressure and made an appointment to see my doctor. She looked at the red patches on my face but weirdly seemed more interested in my heart, taking my blood pressure a couple of times, taking my pulse on both wrists and listening through her stethoscope. I was told I had an irregular heartbeat and she thought that was what caused the rash. She then printed off a couple of forms and told me to head off to the hospital for an ECG. At that time I was 42, weighed in at a pretty hefty 21 stone and, I’ll admit, I lived a pretty unhealthy lifestyle, far too many takeaways, quaffed a few too many pints of lager and did very little exercise. After a few weeks of different tests, it was confirmed that I had a condition called arrhythmia which is also known  as Atrial Fibrillation. This is a condition that occurs when there is a fault in the electric activity in the heart muscle, causing the heart to beat irregularly and in an uncoordinated way. The comment that most struck home more than any other was, a high percentage of people diagnosed with AF are over 60. It is quite rare in a 40 year old and could have been caused by an undetected heart defect but also could have also been excessive alcohol consumption. Sobering thought! The next step was to try a treatment called cardioversion, which uses a defibrillator to shock it back into normal rhythm. The procedure worked, for a couple of weeks, before reverting back to its irregular state. It was at this point I decided things had to change. Now, I’ve never been a runner and just the thought of going to a gym gave me cold sweats so, after talking to a couple of my friends who were keen cyclists, I decided I would give cycling a go. This was a big change for me as I’d not ridden a bike for around 30 years and I was counting on the old adage; that you never forget how to ride one! I live less than ten miles away from work and have always driven, so my plan was, eventually, to commute to and from work every day which seemed like a good plan as it would save me money in the long run. I went out and spent £200 on a hybrid from my local cycle shop and started with little runs around the many local cycle paths in the evenings before gradually building up to 5-10 mile rides. After a couple of weeks I was cycling for half an hour every evening after work and heading out for longer trips over the weekend. I would never have believed how much fun you can have on a bike and the complete sense of freedom cycling gives you is staggering. I was beginning to get totally obsessed with it! After two months I’d lost a stone in weight and felt confident enough on the roads to start cycling to work. The people at my firm started commenting on how much healthier I was looking as the weight continued to fall off, which was incredible. I cycled every day, regardless of what weather Mother Nature decided to throw at me and I loved every minute of it. Interspersed between all the cycling were yet more tests and further meetings with the cardiac consultants to see if there were any other treatments available. I had been put on a daily cocktail of blood thinners, tablets to lower blood pressure and tablets to slow down the heart rate while they decided on the best course of action. I told my consultant about my cycling and asked him whether it was okay to continue with my new exercise regime and he actively encouraged me to carry on as it would be a big benefit to keeping my heart healthy. The following year my cycling exploits continued, every weekend was spent either following a pre-planned route or just going out and deciding which way to go at each turning or junction. In the summer I wanted to sign up for the London to Brighton ride and was pleasantly surprised when 4 work colleagues said they’d do it with me. It was a great day, tough though and further than I’d ever been on a single journey. They coached and cajoled me through and it was a great feeling to make the finish. I did make a snap decision while heading up Ditchling Beacon, I really needed a lighter bike as it was hard work pushing the heavy old hybrid uphill. After several “recovery” days, I went back to my local cycle shop and their knowledgeable staff helped me pick a lovely lightweight road bike and set it all up perfectly for me. It took a while to get used to cycling faster and a totally different gearing system but I soon got used to it. During the rest of the year I took part in a couple of open rides, usually around 30-40 miles and one more 50+ mile ride. I was feeling great, so much fitter and healthier. In November 2014 I received a letter from the hospital with an appointment to see my cardiac consultant where he told me they’d been discussing my case and had come to the decision that none of the available treatments were deemed suitable for my situation. I had to get used to the fact they would be controlling my AF through medication and would not be pursuing any further treatments. To be honest this didn’t bother me as I’d had no problems since taking them and they certainly didn’t affect my daily routine, or, more importantly, my cycling. This year I’ve commuted to work by bike every day (which has saved me a fortune in congestion charges and petrol!), taken on three charity rides and even completed the Ride London 100 mile course. Not bad for someone who hadn’t ridden a bike for 30 years less than two years ago! I’m on target to hit over 4,000 miles on the road in 2015 and have so far lost around four stone in weight thanks to my new cycling “habit”. My doctor and the heart specialist are also very happy, so much so that I’ve now been taken off the blood pressure tablets as its pretty much back to normal and I no longer need to take them. I guess I could have used AF as an excuse to revert to my former lifestyle but there was no way I was going to do that, my love of cycling is now too strong to go back to the old routine. Where you go is completely up to you and I also find it’s great for de-stressing after a hard day at work. No matter how bad the day is, an hour on the bike gives my mind the time to go through everything that has stressed me during the day and by the time I get home, I’m totally chilled out. It does seem quite strange to me that being diagnosed with a heart problem, and having to take medication to control it, has actually improved my life, but it has. It has made me realise how poor my lifestyle choices were and given me the chance to change them. It has also helped to ignite a passion for cycling that I never knew existed and I know I’ll be out on my bike whenever the opportunity arises in the future. If you are diagnosed with AF, it doesn’t need to disrupt your life, change your lifestyle and give cycling a go. It may well change your life just like it has changed mine! My funky heartbeat and I will see you out on the road! Michael Ellis 2015  
Many thanks to Michael for sharing his story with us and if you want to find out more about Atrial Fibrillation you can visit the excellent BHF site here. If this has inspired you to write a blog on anything to do with cycling, contact us at leisurecycling@outlook.com and we’ll get back to you!  
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